Tobacco and alcohol use increases the risk of both HPV-associated and HPV-independent head and neck cancers

Cancer Causes Control. 2010 Sep;21(9):1369-78. doi: 10.1007/s10552-010-9564-z. Epub 2010 Apr 17.


Tobacco, alcohol, and human papillomavirus (HPV) are major risk factors for head and neck cancer (HNC), but it is unclear whether there are two distinct HNC risk groups, one associated with HPV and the other with tobacco/alcohol. Because HPV-positive HNC are clinically distinct from HPV-negative cases in treatment response and with more favorable prognoses, determining whether these differences result from infection alone or in association with other HNC risk factors is important for developing future therapeutic strategies. Incident cases of HNC (n = 201) and age-gender frequency-matched controls (n = 324) were recruited to assess anti-HPV VLP (virus like particles) antibodies 16, 18, 31, and 33. Multivariate logistic regression and stratified analyses were used to calculate adjusted odds ratios (OR). HPV-seronegative and seropositive/heavy tobacco users had similar increased adjusted risks of HNC (HPV-seronegative OR = 2.6, 1.4-5.0; HPV-seropositive OR = 2.3, 1.1-4.8), as did HPV-seronegative (OR = 4.3, 2.1-9.1) versus HPV-seropositive/heavy alcohol users (OR = 3.9, 1.6-9.4). Similar HPV/tobacco/alcohol risk profiles also were seen in oropharyngeal and oral cavity tumor sites. Our finding that tobacco/alcohol use increased the risk of HNC in both HPV-seropositive and HPV-seronegative individuals is consistent with the observation that HPV infection is not a sufficient cause of HNC but requires the accumulation of additional cellular changes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / virology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Papillomavirus Infections / complications*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Antibodies, Viral